By Marion Ali
This week, teachers abandoned their duties and protested the streets in the various municipalities where they live. On Tuesday, the ones in Belize City protested in front of the House of Culture in Belize City where the Cabinet Meeting was taking place, while their fellow members of the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) in the other district towns protested at strategic locations within their districts.
Wednesday was no different. They turned out in numbers in Belmopan to protest in front of the National Assembly building where the Senate Sitting was taking place. Their message has consistently been that they reject the Government adjusting their salaries to reflect a 10% cut.
BNTU Belize City Branch Leader Tanya Flowers-Gillett told the media that while they are abiding by the Covid-19 restrictions that the Police have enforced, the teachers intend to strike for as long as they feel it necessary in order to get the Government to bend to their demands.
Brightly-colored pamphlets which they handed out on Tuesday listed the demands. They want good-governance reform to occur that would put an end to corruption and result in better transparency and financial accountability, nepotism to stop, the implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), and last on the list is the rejection of the salary cut. They also demand that the government stop buying new vehicles.
Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño has explained that the Government has bought only five vehicles for Ministers because the rest are using their personal ones. He said an additional eight vehicles were purchased for the Health Ministry to carry out its Covid vaccination campaign and for the Police Department.
The Government has asked the BNTU and other unions to give them a month more to properly draft the legislations which they are calling for. Prime Minister Briceño told the Reporter that introducing these measures take time to implement because they need to be properly drafted. He explained publicly on Wednesday that when they got into office in November, their focus was to address the flooding and Covid crises that were affecting the country and then the serious financial bind that our country is in. He said that government will begin to pass the necessary legislation over the next month. He assured that the government is “fully committed to these reforms.”
As to the joint unions’ rejection to the salary cut and increment freeze, Briceño said: “Why would we want to cut their salaries; for spite? It makes no sense. The Government is running out of cash. If we continue to print money we will have hyperinflation. If we do nothing we will have a devaluation.”
But the teachers may have more than the 10% cut to worry about come the end of this month. That’s because their decision to abandon their duties means the Government has every right to further dock their pay for every day that they are not teaching, in addition to the 10% cut. Flowers-Gillett said their union “has our back” but would not say whether that means if the union will compensate them for the additional loss caused by their absence from school or online.
While the BNTU has so far gotten the majority of their members to strike, we know there are some teachers who have opted to remain teaching and are still engaged in online classes with their students. BNTU member Miguel Bonilla said publicly on Wednesday that the demands vary among the BNTU membership, but he could not give a breakdown of the numbers showing how many teachers supported which of the pressing issues and which did not.